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读书笔记 The Journal of the Brothers de Goncourt
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If literature is kept alive by a passion loyal even to narrowness, MM. de Goncourt have rendered real services. They may look for it on the one side in directions too few, and on the other in regions thankless and barren, their Journal, at all events, is a signal proof of their good faith. Wonderful are such courage and patience and industry; fatigued, displeased, disappointed, they never intermit their chronicle nor falter in their task. We owe to this remarkable feat the vivid reflection of their life for twenty years, from the coup d’etat which produced the Second Empire to the death of the younger brother on the eve of the war with Germany; the history of their numerous books, their articles, their studies, studies on the social and artistic history of France during the latter half of the last century — on Mme de Pompadour, Mme du Barry, and the other mistresses of Louis XV., on Marie Antoinette, on society and la femme during the Revolution and the Directory; the register, moreover, of their adventures and triumphs as collectors (collectors of the furniture, tapestries, drawings of the last century), of their observations of every kind in the direction in which their nature and their milieu prompt them to observe, of their talks, their visits, their dinners, their physical and intellectual states, their projects and visions, their ambitions and collapses, and, above all, of their likes and dislikes.
Above all of their dislikes, perhaps I should say, for in this sort of testimony the Journal is exceedingly rich. The number of things and of people obnoxious to their taste is extremely large, especially when we consider the absence of variety, as the English reader judges variety, in their personal experience. What strikes an English reader, curious about a society in which acuteness has a high development and thankful for a picture of it, is the small surface over which the career of MM. de Goncourt is distributed. It seems all to take place in a little ring, a coterie of a dozen people. Movement, exercise, travel, other countries, play no part in it; the same persons, the same places, names, and occasions perpetually recur; there is scarcely any change of scene or any enlargement of horizon. The authors rarely go into the country, and when they do they hate it, for they find it bête. To the English mind that item probably describes them better than anything else. We end with the sensation of a closed room, of a want of ventilation; we long to open a window or two and let in the air of the world. The Journal of MM. de Goncourt is mainly a record of resentment and suffering, and to this circumstance they attribute many causes; but we suspect at last that the real cause is for them too the inconvenience from which we suffer as readers — simply the want of space and air.
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